The state of Victoria has a number of legal and working requirements for all electrical works.
This covers most but not all of the common electrical installations. Other standards relate to hazardous areas, medical installations and more.... The link above will direct you to the 2014 amendments
This document covers all the requirements of the electrical distribution companies for the connection of supply and metering. Get this wrong and it will cost you time and money!
This is LAW. It covers the legal obligations of electrical workers, property occupiers and property owners.
In the state of Victoria, the Electrical Safety Act 1998 states:
Failure to comply may cost you money - quoted from the Electrical Safety Act 1998.
(2) The occupier of any premises in which there is any unsafe electrical equipment must— (a) cause the electrical equipment to be removed from the premises or to be made safe; or (b) in the case of electrical equipment forming part of an electrical installation, notify the owner of the premises of the unsafe electrical installation.
(3) An owner of premises who is notified under subsection (2) must cause the electrical installation to be removed from the premises or to be made safe.
What this means is that it is you, the property occupier and or owner, who is responsible for the electrical safety of your property.
- Unsafe / non-compliant electrical works will cost you money; not to mention the risk to life and property!
- Failure to maintain a safe electrical installation may have adverse results in the case of an electrical accident or incident.
- If your electrician does not have a copy of the first two documents and a sound working knowledge of all three, then I suggest you find one that does!
This guide is ananalytical approach for the property owner or occupier to diagnose and possibly rectify an electrical fault. It is based upon a home electrical switchboard with circuit breakers and possibly safety switches.
House holders with fuse boards can also use this guide but extreme care must be taken when removing and inserting fuses. I recommend either turning off all main switches when doing so or calling a Registered Electrical Contractor (REC)
Please note that under no circumstances should unqualified persons attempt to remove covers to electrical apparatus or in anyway modify an electrical installation.
Before You Have a Problem
If reading this for the first time and you have no power, it is probably a bit late.
What is really useful is - what we in the trade call a switchboard schedule. This simply allocates a number to each fuse or circuit breaker that corresponds to a list showing the purpose of that circuit (Light, Power, Oven) and what points or areas that circuit covers.
- Are you the only person in the street affected? Ask your neighbours. Note that with our multi phase distribution system it is possible for some neighbours in the same street to be affected and others not. If some off your neighbours are also affected, the fault is probably within the supply distribution system. A word of advice here is to turn off all your power at the main switchboard or, if possible everything except a lighting circuit which can be used as an indicator for when power is returned. The purpose of this is to remove potential damage from power surges.
- You are the only person affected. Do you have any power at all? Lights, power points and fixed appliances are typically on different electrical circuits - go to your switchboard. Is anything turned off?
- If everything is on ( this is the up position with most but not all circuit breakers) you will need to contact an REC.
Circuit Breaker or RCD is OFF
- First Step. With the main switch turned off, try resetting the circuit breaker or RCD. If they do not reset, call an REC as the device is defective. If they do reset, turn the affected device back off and the main switch on and continue with the listed procedure.
- Please note that repeated operation of a circuit breaker or safety switch into a short circuit or other fault condition can cause the device to fail. If this occurs, you will need to contact an REC.
- Before turning the device on, work out what it does. Hopefully the switchboard is labeled! (Refer to the above note on switchboard schedules)
- If power - which points? Unplug all appliances from affected points whilst also observing those appliances for any damage (use a known working appliance - hair dryer - as a tester). With lights, try to ensure all the lights are turned off. If it is a SAFETY Switch (Residual Current Device - RCD) that is off, then it could be a combination of both light and power.
- With all appliances on the affected circuit isolated (or lights switched off), reset the circuit breaker and / or RCD. If this stays on, leave it for a minute or so then individually plug in and use each appliance or light, removing that appliance or turning the light off after establishing its working status. This is a process of elimination that will hopefully identify the problem. If the circuit breaker or RCD will not reset, double check that everything is unplugged before trying again. Call an REC if the circuit breaker or RCD will not reset.
Many electrical installations use a single RCD for multiple circuits. The current Australian standard limits this to 2 power and 1 light circuit per RCD. Prior to 2007, any number of circuit breakers could be connected to an RCD. Whilst providing safety, it can be far from reliable and should be avoided in every circumstance. The greater the number of circuits and appliances connected to an RCD, the more likely it is to nuisance trip due to the accumulative affects of small leakage currents. This can often be overcome by installing separate RCD circuit breakers (RCBOs) to each required circuit.
A fast track method to identify an RCD fault where the RCD protects multiple circuits is as follows. (does not always work)
- With the RCD off, turn all the protected circuit breakers off.
- Try to reset the RCD. If it will not reset, continue with the detailed procedure.
- If it does reset, turn on each circuit breaker independently to determine which circuit may be faulty.
- Once the faulty circuit is established, determine which lights or power points are on that circuit and isolate them. Continue with the detailed procedure but only with this single circuit.
I have often been called out when this procedure has not produced the desired result. Often people miss appliance power points such as dish washers, hot plate ignition, fridges (too hard to access!), garage door power points, external heaters. The other mistake made is to isolate by turning the power point switch off. Note that every appliance must be physically unplugged.
The above switchboard is typical of a newer single phase circuit breaker design.
All switches are in the on position.
From left to right we have
- Main Switch. (should be labelled main switch light & power). This device is rated at 80 amps but will not current limit the supply. The requirements now would be for a 63 amp circuit breaker (assuming 63 amp supply) as a main switch.
- Stove. This is a 25 amp circuit. Probably a direct connection at the stove. Note that a lot of ovens utilise a 10, 15 or 20 amp power point for a connection. Hot plates are mostly direct connected but are required to have an isolation switch fitted in a readily accessible location (not cupboard) within 2 metres of the appliance and suitably labeled.
- Safety switch. Rated at 40 amps withoutcurrent limiting.
- Power circuits. 5 x 20 amp circuit breakers protected by the first safety switch (RCD)
- Safety switch. Rated at 40 amps without current limiting. Label missing.
- Light Circuits. 3 x 10 amp circuit breakers. One label missing
- Also missing is the location of the main earth electrode.
The pictures below show not only some of my good work but also just some of the all too common examples of unsafe and non-compliant works that have allegedly been carried out by licensed electricians and registered electrical contractors. Out of sight should not mean out of mind. Compare my loose insulation down light installation (pic2) or in roof cabling (pic 3) to that which is more commonly dished up (pics 7 & 8). Who can you trust? Is it worth the risk??